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Is dredging the Grand River good for Grand Haven?

Alexander Sinn • Nov 19, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Grand Haven leaders say they are skeptical of a proposed dredging project that would allow boaters to commute between Grand Rapids and Lake Michigan.

City Manager Pat McGinnis said they are concerned about the environmental impacts of dredging and the congestion of boat traffic that is already a problem in the Grand Haven channel.

The Grand River Waterway group behind the idea recently commissioned a study by Anderson Economic Group LLC on the economic impact of dredging a 50-foot-wide, 7-foot-deep channel along a 23-mile section of the Grand River, between the Bass River Inlet in Eastmanville and the Fulton Street Bridge in Grand Rapids.

The study indicated an impact of up to $5.7 million annually from increased visitors spending, with a $3.6 million initial impact from the dredging. Up to 49,000 net new visitor days are anticipated annually, with spendings of up to $2.2 million.

The project would aim to increase property values for hundreds of homes along the river. It would also increase property tax collection by about $614,000 for municipalities along the river. 

Thirty-six percent of the proposed channel would require dredging, resulting in 97,800 cubic yards of dredged material, according to the report.

While the proposed dredging would allow boats to head upriver to Grand Rapids, McGinnis said he expects much of that boat traffic would head to Grand Haven, where Lake Michigan and the harbor present more recreational opportunities.

The city is not taking a stance against the plans to dredge the river, McGinnis said, but wants more information to prepare for such an undertaking.

Environment

McGinnis said there could be contamination lurking beneath the first few inches of sediment in the Grand River, and extensive sampling would be required to prevent a public health risk.

“We’ve only recently discovered the PFAS calamity,” he said. “There is likely other concerns in the 100 years of industrial sediment beneath the riverbed.”

Keeping the outer and inner harbor dredged in Grand Haven is a major undertaking, McGinnis said, with collaboration among five government units, the local Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and private property owners.

The city is also concerned about flooding, threats to existing wetlands, wakes created by power boats and keeping recently improved water trails along the river safe for kayakers.

“We have been trying to market this corridor as a natural destination for ecotourism,” McGinnis said. “Are we going to abandon this approach in favor of waterskiing and pedal pubs?”

Congestion

Several safety issues are also a concern for the city, starting with boat traffic beneath the drawbridge between Grand Haven and Ferrysburg. The bridge currently disrupts traffic patterns for hundreds of thousands of motorists every year, McGinnis said.

Plans are being considered for a new, fixed bridge that would not disrupt traffic when boats are passing through, he said, but such a project is not yet in the planning stages, nor is it in the city budget.

In the Grand Haven harbor, existing infrastructure currently reaches full capacity during the peak summer months. The city needs time to prepare for an influx of boat traffic.

“We want to plan for growth and make sure we’re putting in additional space down here before we start adding hundreds of customers,” McGinnis said. “It could be a great thing for us, but we want to do this with eyes wide open.”

The harbor also serves as a safe refuge for boats during major storms on Lake Michigan, he added, and there needs to be infrastructure to support more boats coming in to dock during weather events.

City leaders are not disappointed with the steps the Grand River Waterway has taken to study the economic and environmental impact of a dredging project, McGinnis said, and do not feel they have been excluded from the process. However, more research is needed before proceeding, he said. 

“I don’t believe that the local units between here and Grand Rapids have really had a full exploration of what it takes,” McGinnis said.

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